Informal communication

This page is primarily about supporting or teaching informal communication, such as team communication, collaborating with colleagues, and the myriad forms of professional interpersonal communication. See also the page about informal peer critique. For information about using informal communication to teach math, see this page about communicating to learn.

Supporting Teamwork

You can help teams to function productively by giving students the means for thinking and talking about teamwork. A lecture is unlikely to be appreciated, but there are other ways to support teamwork.

  • Lesson plan for a teamwork workshop from M.I.T.’s Project Lab in Mathematics.
  • Complex Instruction: Raising Achievement Through Group Worthy Tasks,” NRICH enriching mathematics This website provides strategies for including groupwork in math classes successfully. Addresses how to choose appropriate group tasks and how to encourage all members of the team to contribute. Strategies including assigning group roles, rewarding diverse contributions to groupwork, and enabling quieter students to contribute by raising their status within the group. Videos demonstrate these techniques.
  • Steve Maurer’s Undergraduate Guide to Writing Mathematics includes guidance to students for how to jointly write a math paper (See Section 3.4).

Grading group work

Grading “teamwork” is often accomplished by grading the team’s product with some combination of group and individual grades. Another strategy is to have peers assign each other grades. Teammates can evaluate each other by using the  online CATME peer evaluation tool: here is a demo. On his website [visited 2/12/2012], Tommy Ratcliff describes another appealing strategy:

“The students are often apprehensive about the grading of group projects, but a system that I’ve found works really well is that I allow the students in the group to determine the distribution of the points. For example, if a group of three receives an 80 on an assignment, then they have a total of 3 x 80 = 240 points to distribute among themselves. They fill out a form, sign it, and return it to me. For the most part, the students split the points evenly, but as the semester goes on, they are more willing to allocate the points differently. I have used this process for over a decade and have had to mediate only a handful of times.”

Teamwork literature and resources

General teamwork literature and resources (not specific to mathematics)

Teaching resources
  • The CATME Team-Maker is an online tool that helps instructors to form and evaluate teams. The evaluation tool also alerts the instructor if it identifies any teams or individuals that fit common problematic patterns.
  • Barbara Oakley et al., “Turning Student Groups into Effective Teams,” Journal of Student Centered Learning, Vol. 2. No. 1, 2004, pp. 9-34. A good start toward thinking about the logistics of teamwork in a class. Addresses team formation, converting groups into effective teams (including establishing expectations, instruction on effective team practices, and dealing with problem team members), and peer ratings. Includes forms and handouts for students.
  • 6.005 Team Contract, Miller, Robert. 6.005 Elements of Software Construction, Fall 2011. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology: MIT OpenCourseWare), (Accessed 18 Mar, 2013). License: Creative Commons BY-NC-SA This short list of questions can help a team to write a team contract. The questions address team goals, meeting norms, work norms, and decision making.
Research and other literature
  • A. Woolley, T.W. Malone, C.F. Chabris, “Why Some Teams Are Smarter Than Others,” The New York Times Sunday Review Jan 16, 2015. This article summarizes research of Woolley, Malone, Chabris and their colleagues that identifies factors that correlate with team intelligence. These include total time communicating, equal time communicating (no one or two team members dominate the conversation), social sensitivity, and proportion of women on the team (which correlates with social sensitivity).
  • M. Poe, N. Lerner, J. Craig, Learning to Communicate in Science and Engineering: Case Studies from MIT  (Link goes to book review in Across the Disciplines.) This book includes a section on teamwork.
  • D. Zhang, L. Cuthbert, S. Ketteridge, “Effective Teaching of Technical Teamwork to Large Cohorts of Engineering Students in China,” Frontiers in Education Conference, 2011.
  • Graham, et al. “Teaching High School Students and College Freshmen Product Development by Deterministic Design With PREP” Outlines a strategy for team decision making; particularly appropriate for engineering; however, PREP is a useful strategy in any context for ensuring that all voices are heard. In PREP, students write their ideas, everyone reads what everyone else has written, and only then does discussion begin.
  • A. Halstead and L. M. Martin, “Learning and thinking styles: A Tool for engaging engineering students with their studies,” Progress I Conference Papers, 2001. From the abstract: “This paper presents the results of a pilot study…established to see if a learning styles assessment could be used…as a tool to enhance group work…An initial evaluation of the student learning style was carried out using a standard questionnaire…Students were given an option of selecting their own working group or being selected on the basis of balancing and appreciating the individual learning style of their peers…Students choosing to participate in the allocated groups performed at a higher level that the students who self selected which is consistent with the findings of other researchers.”
  • See also research related to CATME Team-Maker, a teaching resource listed above.

Professional Interpersonal Communication

Professional interpersonal communication includes informal peer critique, which is discussed here.

  • Caroline Chen’s May 9, 2013 blog post “The Paradox of the Proof” reports on the mathematics community’s reaction to Shinichi Mochizuki’s claimed proof of the ABC conjecture. Her account gives in interesting picture of the informal process of collaboration and communication among mathematicians and the problems that can arise when that informal process isn’t followed.
  • MAA Focus has a few articles about applying for jobs, networking, and interviewing. These articles are listed on the MAA student webpage.
  • Stephen Maurer’s Undergraduate Guide to Writing Mathematics includes a section about writing for managers and other lay people (Section 3.8).
  • Professional interpersonal communication has been addressed in M.I.T.’s communication-intensive offering of Real Analysis, as described in this lesson plan; however, this class has had a mixed reception with students. The examples are taken from engineering rather than from mathematics, and those who have experience in the workforce find the recitation to be more valuable than those who do not. This recitation has been removed from the syllabus.

If you are aware of additional helpful resources, please contact the site editors. The value of this site for educators depends entirely on the participation of educators.

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